The Cyborg HR manager

Hasta la vista

Photo courtesy: Cinema Nation

Photo courtesy: Cinema Nation


Very recently, Virgin Airways, successfully completed a two-week on-field trial of Google Glass. If you are a first class passenger in Virgin, you’d be warmly received by a “glass-ed” hostess who’d literally know all about you, even pre-empt and address those considerations that could make your travel experience truly memorable. Business analysts tout this as the next big thing in customer relationship management. Futuristic technologies are rapidly making inroads into the way business processes are managed and executed, promising to improve them over time. These promises are grounded on validations which unmistakably and unequivocally serve as proofs-of-concept that data and efficiency are the only true measures of business success in the coming times.

The Google Glass example seeds the thought that there is no end in sight on the overlay of analytic strata that one can introduce to improve transactions. At present, an HR manager already has several tools at her/his disposal to make deep analytic conclusions about individuals and the workforce. Data on an employee’s web behavior can provide invaluable insights about several talent metrics, such as engagement, productivity, and integrity. Imagine pivoting this information with organisational events or stages of employment to arrive at conclusions about the employee’s time of quitting. Adding another layer, if this information could be mapped to the internal and external talent database of the organisation to find the best replacement. An HR manager of the future could be talking about metrics on the lines of “potential replacements for probable departures.”

One cannot help but draw parallels of the future talent manager with the “T 800” cyborg played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Terminator movies. At several points, the movies provide glimpses of the cyborg’s view of ambient human presence— a piercing peek into a cold alternate reality. The image of a “glass-ed” HR manager looking at an employee as a set of data points suddenly appears like a distinct possibility. Many skeptics predict that the disciple of HR management will face an imminent but slow death in the future. The foundations of HR are not rooted as much in the execution of processes as they are in the fundamentals of good relationships. For good or for the worse, HR technologies are looking to shake this very foundation of HR. While this may mean efficient administration, robust business preparedness, and precision execution, it does raise questions on what it means for the deeper and often unpredictable fundamentals of human behavior— a layer that any analytic model cannot possibly hope to penetrate— of unpredictability, intuition, and impulse— of emotion. Until human emotion continues to hold the embargo rights in business decisions, organisations and employees can take comfort in the fact that HR and talent management systems will continue to have the enviable capability to self-correct. Until the time man and machine cohabit, the possibilities of the future not only sound aspirational— they sound exciting. It is important to know and prepare for these exciting opportunities that the future of HR technology presents.

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The Multi-Player Enterprise

The introduction of game dynamics enhances a critical dimension of enterprise talent management― the aspect of ownership. Needless to say, talent management of the future will be played out in the “multi-player enterprise mode.”

There is an intrinsic association between humans and gaming. Through war for territorial domination, intellectual establishments, or competitive sport, man’s quest for progress and excellence has continually been driven by the urge to compete. From medieval times, mankind has been in an incessant hunt to bring inventive mechanisms to satiate the urge to game.  To game refers to the intrinsic desire of employing one’s mental, emotional, physical, and predatory faculties to achieve an objective or move ahead of competition.

Market estimates peg the size of the global digital video gaming industry alone at a massive $78 billion dollars in size. This excludes all other forms of gaming, such as competitive sport, physical board gaming, and gambling. Added to the fact that is satiates man’s intrinsic competitive desire, gaming transcends into a space where nothing is irrevocable and one has the opportunity for course correction.

It is under this premise that gaming has made an entry into a very unlikely world― the world of HR.I recently spoke to a number of global HR experts on the trends shaping the future of the HR industry. Almost unanimously, all experts agreed that the next wave of transformation and evolution of the HR industry will be driven singularly by technology. While technology is trickling into all aspects of the employee lifecycle, the terrain of “HR gamification” is expected to bring forth the most exciting evolutionary leaps.

While gaming is still in its primitive stages of evolution in the HR world, most believe that there are huge untapped opportunities for enterprises in this space. Owing the nascent state of this segment, very few companies have yet explored the segment of talent management through gaming. Presently, gaming in HR is predominantly employed in three terrains of talent management― employee referrals, collaboration, and health and fitness.

While an element of gaming already exists in an enterprise through employee referrals, there are significant opportunities for improving the effectiveness of an employee referral program through simulation and leaderboard gaming. Exemplar companies have noticed significant ROI from their employee referral programs where an employee takes ownership of the hiring process and is driven by the urge to see a personal initiative through its completion. This is accomplished through gaming platforms where an employee has complete visibility of the stages starting from candidate review to job offer. Leaderboard gaming is a way by which employees compete with one another to emerge as the most effective referrer.

Social collaboration through gaming provides incentives for employees to share knowledge and continually strive for excellence. Very recently Capgemini gamified their entire 120,000 global workforce by creating an “online leaderboard” by employing the UK based technology service company, Leaderboarded. The platform allows the company’s employees to share knowledge, create motivation among colleagues, and also enables managers to guide behaviors.

The third element where gaming has shown demonstrable ROI is in the terrain of employee health and fitness. Global research indicates that the present Indian workforce is expected to face several health and wellness related issues in the coming years. These translate into significant implications for the enterprise’s topline and bottomline. Conversations with various organizations reveal that organizations have witnessed noticeable ROI by employing gaming initiatives for health and wellness. Stepathlon, for example, is one of the most popular gaming platforms that enterprises use to drive the sense of ownership for health and wellness among employees.

While more and more technology service companies are looking to enter this space, a performance management gaming platform called eMee by Persistent Systems provides a pioneering peek into the possibilities of gaming for talent management. eMee is a platform by which an employee can own his entire annual performance management, including productivity and personal development. While leaderboard-type platforms will drive the penetration of gaming into the enterprise HR agenda, it will be holistic systems such as eMee that will pioneer the next generation of performance management practices in enterprises. Needless to say, the coming months will see a number of new-age gaming platforms catering to different aspects of the employment lifecycle. I reckon the enterprise of 2015 to be in multi-player mode!!!

Hey, we’re tech-savvy; or are we?

Fine, you have automated some enterprise processes. But are you really a tech-savvy organization? The key to calling yourself a technologically successful enterprise lies in starting right.

The last decade was marked with organizations scampering to automate internal processes. From payroll and benefits automation to big bang HRMS implementations, the HR technology market in India has witnessed a staggering compounded annual growth rate of 77% YOY since 2007. Also, interesting to note is that this trend was led by small and medium businesses deploying HRIS/HRMS in their attempt to become “tech-savvy.” In the absence of right planning and strategic view, however, a technology implementation can go terribly wrong, resulting in consequences that far outweigh the perceived benefits of automation and digitization. According to Phil Lamb, Managing Director of Infinity Software Solutions, “inability to define the scope coupled with cumbersome system implementations are among the top reasons why HR technology implementations fail in organizations.”

Oftentimes, we’ve heard senior leaders in HR forums speaking about the importance of technology in attraction and retention. While studies reveal that technology comprises one of the key employment value proposition (EVP) attributes for Gen Y and Millennials globally, there is still a significant majority of the workforce in India who do not belong to either of these demographic segments. Moreover, some experts argue that the preferences of GenY and Millenials in India are characteristically different from that of the global workforce. Digging further, these differences have shown to be more pronounced in specific sectors such as manufacturing and utilities. A mad scamper for technology implementation based on unrealistic hype that disregards the actual preferences of the workforce can potentially do more harm than good.

Does this mean that there is no real connection between the hype and benefits that technology implementations claim to bring to the enterprise? Does technology implementation have any real impact on workforce engagement? The answer to it lies in the purported direction that an enterprise aims to tread through technology.

Research suggests that an employee can potentially lose up to 30% of a typical workday in executing non-productive activities. Coupled with work breaks (lunch, time away), almost 50% of an employee’s 9-hour work day can potentially be lost to non-value adding activities. Non-productive activities include attendance and leave management, scheduling and co-coordinating meetings, technical downtime, internal information gathering, and support desk communications. It is in this area of non-productive task automation that enterprises should base their starting point for automation. Migration to an automated environment can significantly reduce the time taken for executing non-value adding tasks. The answer to eliminating all internal inefficiencies, do not necessarily lie in a big-bang HRIS/HRMS implementation that requires significant change management investments.

Another area where technology has demonstrated significant positive ROI is in the area of performance management. It is surprising to note that very few organizations in India have automated their performance management process. Most companies still rely on tedious paper-based processes and outdated performance management methods. Modern day performance management systems, if implemented with the right change management plan, can virtually manage an organization’s end-to-end performance management process starting from goal-setting to performance delivery.

So, what is the key to ensuring that an organization can leverage the benefits of technology the right way? Experts recommend six technology planning indicators to safeguard against failed implementations.

  1. Start an automation project that first targets elimination of repetition and redundancy
  2. Set clear guidelines and guardrails outlining the definitive purpose of a technology implementation
  3. Account for the YOY net present value across the entire lifecycle of the technology implementation
  4. Consider a shared service partner to gain access to superior technology and implementation expertise
  5. Create a change management plan by involving all senior stakeholders
  6. Consider technology implementation as a strategic enterprise objective and gather management’s commitment to its success

And above all, before you call yourself a tech-savvy enterprise, do stop once and ask, “Are we really?”

Anytime Anywhere HR

Information availability and quality are rapidly defining efficiency for modern day businesses. With the ever-increasing reliance on information, business professionals are demanding access to information systems anytime and anywhere.  Starting from the need to connect with prospective talent to accessing enterprise records, more and more HR professionals feel the need for accessing information to meet the pressing issues of their business constituencies. From the supply side, more and more developers are building apps to meet this ever-increasing demand for anytime, anywhere HR. Apps are standalone products built for any kind of computing environment (desktops, mobiles, tablets) and are typically characterized by rich features and a friendly user-interface for efficiently executing a specific set of tasks. Many confuse apps under the broader cluster of social networking; it has to be understood that apps are actually engines for executing tasks within a medium and that they’re not necessarily the medium themselves. Owing to their specificity, apps are easier to navigate and fundamentally faster than a full-service web site or a social networking platform, thereby making them popular tools for quick and efficient information access. Some of the common app families popular with HR professionals are as follows.

Recruiting: These apps cater to specific components of the recruiting lifecycle. While the most popular ones are those that help screen resumes, there are other high-end apps that can browse through various social networking sites and shortlist prospective candidates. Still others are built to promote the employer brand through interactive communications with prospective talent. Some of the popular recruiting apps available include JobSpeek, Jobvite, and mResource.

Productivity tracking: HR professionals typically employ these apps to keep track of and generate real-time reports of workforce productivity. These include apps for time and attendance, leave management, and scheduling. Some of the popular productivity apps among HR professionals are Vortex Mobile Connect, TimeStation, and Rypple.

Payroll and benefits: These apps allow HR professionals to access, review, and manage payroll and benefits data of the organization. Along with access, these apps also offer functionality to generate reports in real time in mobile and tablet devices.  Some of these apps also act as an interface between the organization and employees, allowing them to check payroll and benefits information, submit queries, and access specific information requirements. Some of the popular payroll and benefits apps among HR professionals include Ascent, ADP Mobile Payroll, and HR Concepts’ Mobile Benefits.

Workforce analytics: These apps gather and analyze information on the enterprise workforce based on organizational metrics and standards. These apps allow HR and business leaders make informed workforce decisions through real-time reports. Some of the popular workforce analytics apps include Kronos Workforce Mobile, Oracle Mobile Workforce Analytics, and SAP Mobile Enterprise.

Social networking: Social networking apps prove extremely handy for HR to communicate with the employee base and propagate information quickly and efficiently. While many organizations host facebook and twitter pages for their social messaging requirements, there are many that create their own internal social networking app. Some of the popular apps available in this space include Connections (IBM), Zoho, and PeopleHub (an internal social app built for MindTree by Microsoft).

As mobile applications get more widespread acceptance in the talent market, provisioning HR apps will become an important channel for attracting, engaging, and retaining talent, as well as managing HR organizations of the future. To have an idea of the importance of mobile apps for talent management of the future, Apple stated that between 2008 and 2011 there were 15 billion job application downloads from its App store; the same number took the iTunes store twice as many years!